OAKLAND -- By mid-May, most fourth-grade teachers are happy they've almost made it through the school year and a two-month break is around the corner.
On Monday, 29 year-old Laura Strait learned she has a lot more to look forward to over the summer, $25,000 in cash to be exact, from a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based nonprofit that promotes good teaching.
Strait, who teaches at the East Oakland charter school Aspire ERES Academy, got the Fishman Prize from TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project) in front of her students with her mother at her side.
Strait, who said she combines her background in general teaching and special education to provide a specialized learning experience for each student, was one of four teachers who received the prize out of about 820 applicants nationwide.
"Her students do incredibly well, and they've made incredible gains," said Aspire Principal Emily Murphy, who nominated Strait for the award. "She is an amazing teacher, and she just wants to get better and better and better."
After being nominated, Strait, who has been teaching eight years, submitted classroom data on test scores for all subjects and submitted an essay as part of the competition.
"I said that with my background in special education and general teaching, I'm able to differentiate students who need more help and get to know each one really well and give them individualized attention," Strait said.
She was observed in the classroom by TNTP staff, who arrived unannounced, underwent a video observation of her classroom and participated in panel interviews in New York.
Aleka Calsoyas, a partner at TNTP who was on hand Monday to present the award, piled on the praise.
"She is very connected to the class as a whole and to individual students, that was clear to me," Calsoyas said. "The class is engaged, and she is constantly pushing them to dig deeper."
So what will a fourth-grade teacher do with $25,000 and a whole summer ahead of her?
"I've never had this kind of money in my life, so I definitely will go on a vacation," Strait said. "I've also got a lot of student loans to pay off."
Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.